How to Build Better Relationships (Holiday Edition)

How to Build Better Relationships (Holiday Edition)

The holidays are upon us. And this means parties, get-togethers, and family gatherings. So, it got me thinking about both the joy and the misery we feel when it comes to gathering together with others.  For those “social butterflies” reading this, you will read my words and think “Duh” and wonder why any of this needs to be said — read this as a sort of refresher and pick up an idea or two for your social toolbox.

For the rest of us non-social-savants, I offer my thoughts & ideas to give hope and encouragement in what we are about to encounter.  And for us all, I hope my words offer a really practical means of deepening our existing relationships, building new ones, and removing obstacles to joy in the rest.

I’ve learned this about relationships and parties/gatherings — less is more.  What I mean is if you try to interact with the mob at large, you will walk away feeling like you’ve just left a hot dog eating contest. There will be chaotic frenzy, a winner and lots of losers, you won’t have enjoyed the food, and you’ll be left bloated, unhappy, and with a sick feeling that you’ve just wasted your entire evening. It doesn’t have to be this way.

As the saying goes, “(Q) How do you eat an Elephant?  (A) One bite at a time.”  Start there. One person at a time. (Or, if that feels too overwhelming, start one ‘question’ at a time.) I’m convinced that once the frenzy of the “party” wears off, if we haven’t connected with another person we will feel underwhelmed, exhausted, and unfulfilled. Make it your goal — To Know and to Be Known. This is Rule #1 for turning what could be simply just another “party” into a meaningful high-point of your week.

Here are Several Other Ideas to Help You Make the Most of Your Time Together:

For You

  • Choose to be present. If you really don’t want to be there, don’t attend. Really. You won’t be helping anyone and you’ll simply build resentment in yourself. So, if you must go, go “all in”.
  • Focus on one (1) person at a time. 
    • If you must “work the room” fine. But don’t allow it to dominate your evening. Know and Be Known by another.
  • Ask “3 questions and a Comment”
    • Ask questions before making comments, 3:1.  Questions help you open the conversational door. Comments alone don’t leave the door open. So, use ‘leading’ questions, like
      • Tell me more about that…
      • How did that make you feel?
      • Has this ever happened before? (Tell me about that…)
  • Don’t talk about “stuff” the whole time. (i.e., technology, iPhones/iPads/apps, sports, family drama, work, other people, etc.) These things don’t really help you know another person, or vice-versa.
  • Pitch in.   Where is the action going on? Jump in and help out.  Jumping in on kitchen duties can give you time with those special people who’s hearts are to serve. (Great people to know.)
  • Linger.  Just hang-out. Be around. Don’t occupy your time with books or gadgets or whatever. Leave yourself open. Conversations are like forest creatures — they are shy but have a way of sprouting up around you when you wait quietly.
  • Pick up a child and hold them. Carry them around for a while. Kids love that. You’ll make a connection.
  • Get down on the floor and interact with some children. Play a game with them. Read them a book. “Interview” them.
  • Play a game with the adults.  Or, if its a large group, see if a few people want to play a game in another room. It will add some fun and a chance to break the ice conversationally.
  • Download the “Table Topics” App for your smart phone/iPod.  This is a great ‘ice breaker’ to build some conversational momentum.
  • When talking about yourself, give details about your own life. (It’s easy to think that simply talking is the same thing as connecting or that sharing information about whatever is the same thing as letting someone get to know YOU.)  So, talk about you, your kids, your spouse, your hopes and dreams, etc. (No one really cares what happened to your neighbor’s dog anyway.)
  • Look for the person who is standing by their self.  This is a person just waiting to be engaged in a conversation. They may just not know how to dive in. Begin there, it will help you both out.
    • What are the high/lows of your week?
    • Anything interesting happen to you this week?
    • What’s been your favorite project/hobby this year? (and why? what led you to it? . . .)
  • Go stand outside with the “smoker(s)” taking a break. This is a great place to have an undistracted conversation with some really great people. It is a sacrifice for someone who smokes to step outside so that others might stay smoke-free. There is something special that happens when we honor their sacrifice by joining them outside to keep the conversation going.
  • Avoid Conflict-conversations.  If you’ve not seen these people (or person) for a while, this is not the time to raise  an issue that has been simmering for days, weeks, or months just because they are finally standing in front of you.  Instead, make this an occasion for connection — do the ‘problem solving’ another day, intentionally.
  • Speak with compassion. When gathering with people you don’t see everyday, realize that you only see a small sliver of their lives. Everything they share has a story behind it. Be compassionate and understanding knowing there is more going on than you know.  This will go a long way toward feelings of connectedness, openness, and looking forward to talking again.

For the Host

  • If people don’t all know each other, put out some cards and interactive games to encourage people to mix together (short, interactive games that can be inclusive and allow conversation work best)
  • Conspicuously make available a few conversation starters (such as “Table Topics” or “Around the Table“). Leave them lying around on coffee tables and counters to encourage conversations.
  • Turn off the TV. (Or, if you must have “the game” on, put the TV out of the central meeting space.)  Remember this rule — Technology Kills Conversations. 
  • Put on background music. Not too loud, just background. It sets the mood, creates the background canvas for conversation. (It’s hard to talk in dead silence. That’s why restaurants play background music. It creates a freedom of sorts to speak up.)
  • Create space to talk (e.g., rearrange the furniture to maximize conversational comfort/accessibility, build warmth (fire in the fireplace, candles, fresh smells, etc), low music.  Create zones in your house.  Whenever possible, create space for the tv/football crowd and another space for the game players and another for quiet conversation, etc.

I know this is a lot of information. Glean from it what you can. Pick one or two things to focus on. Think of them as tools for your social toolbox.

Enjoy your holidays!!!


2 responses to “How to Build Better Relationships (Holiday Edition)”

  1. I think I’m just going to smile a lot. And when I’m talking to people, instead of looking them in the eye, I’ll look just past there eye, like the tops of their ears. That will give me something to focus on.
    Here’s a question – what if I want to start some kind of new tradition like, instead of blessing the food and just eating, having a time for people to talk about what they are thankful for. Do I just let that kind of stuff go? It’s not my house so I’m not the “master of ceremonies”.
    It seemed simpler when I would drink a little before going over “there”. Everything seemed to be fine then.

    • Funny, Jason.

      Good thing I know you better than that — you’re a ‘look em in the eye’ kind of guy. But your question is a good one though. Let me ask you this — what is your motive? Is it to build a new more meaningful tradition? Is it to try to draw people out and get to know them better? Or is it to embarrass or otherwise prove a point to them? Family dynamics play a big part in how your suggestion might be perceived. With that said, here’s what I think. First, if you decide your motives are pure, and you’re concerned it might clash with the “master of ceremonies” plans, ask them ahead of time if they are open to you sharing the idea at the table. If you get their blessing (or if you don’t think you will offend anyone without permission) raise your idea as a ‘suggestion’ at the table. See if anyone likes the idea. (You might ask another person ahead of time to chime in to give your idea momentum.) Second, if the table idea doesn’t achieve what you hoped for, try doing it one-on-one. If you’re looking to know the other guests better and want to draw them out, as you’re interacting with them throughout the night, ask them what they are thankful for this year. It might spawn some really meaningful conversations. Hope this helps. Let me know how it goes.


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